UN rights commissioner describes Rohingya crisis as textbook example of ethnic cleansing
The UN high commissioner for human rights on Monday described the situation of Myanmar‘s Rohingya minority as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and criticised both Yangon and New Delhi, the latter for seeking to deport Rohingyas who fled to India.
Delivering the opening statement at the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights, asked the Myanmar government to stop claiming the Rohingyas were setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their villages.
Al Hussein came down heavily on the Myanmar government, stating that its denial on the Rohingya issue was doing great damage to the international standing of a government which had until recently, he said, benefited from immense goodwill.
“Because Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators the current situation cannot yet be fully assessed, but the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” he said.
“I call on the government to end its current cruel military operation, with accountability for all violations that have occurred and to reverse the pattern of severe and widespread discrimination against the Rohingya population. I strongly urge the authorities to allow my office unfettered access to the country,” he added.
Al Hussein also expressed dismay at what he called the “broader rise of intolerance towards religious and other minorities in India”, and alleged that those who spoke out for fundamental human rights faced threats.
“Gauri Lankesh, a journalist who tirelessly addressed the corrosive effect of sectarianism and hatred, was assassinated last week. I have been heartened by the subsequent marches calling for protection of the right to freedom of expression, and by demonstrations in 12 cities to protest the lynchings,” he said.
Referring to India’s approach to Rohingya refugees, Al Hussein said he deplored New Delhi’s measures to deport them, noting that nearly 40,000 had settled in India and 16,000 of them had received refugee documentation.
He said: “The minister of state for home affairs has reportedly said that because India is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention, the country can dispense with international law on the matter, together with basic human compassion.
“However, by virtue of customary law, its ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the obligations of due process and the universal principle of non-refoulement, India cannot carry out collective expulsions, or return people to a place where they risk torture or other serious violations.”
The UN official expressed regret at the alleged reluctance of India and Pakistan to engage with his office on human rights concerns he had raised in recent months, including failure to grant access to Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control to verify developments that continue to be reported there.
“In the absence of such access, my office is undertaking remote monitoring of the human rights situation in Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control, with a view to making the findings public in the near future,” he said.